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Savages, Romans, and DespotsThinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder$
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Robert Launay

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226575254

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226575421.001.0001

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Ancients, Moderns, and Others: Fontenelle and Temple

Ancients, Moderns, and Others: Fontenelle and Temple

(p.106) Seven Ancients, Moderns, and Others: Fontenelle and Temple
Savages, Romans, and Despots

Robert Launay

University of Chicago Press

In 1687, the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns erupted in the French Academy when a poem was recited claiming that the achievements of France under Louis XIV exceeded those of the Ancients. This chapter examines the writings of two major protagonists in the Quarrel, Fontenelle in France and Sir William Temple in England. In their arguments, both writers not only compared Ancients to Moderns but also, in different ways, non-Europeans. For Fontenelle, knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, is cumulative. He compared Native American mythology to that of the Greeks and Romans, and even imagined a time in the future when Native Americans might consider French thinkers in the way that the Moderns considered the Ancients. Temple contested the idea that knowledge was cumulative, preferring the oldest writers to their successors and even oral to written learning, suggesting that the very source of Ancient Greek learning might have been India and China. In another essay “On Heroic Vitrue”, he avoided examples from the ancient world in favor of more distant peoples: China, Peru, Scythians, and Arabs, preferring the virtues of good government as practiced in China and Peru over the military prowess of Scythians and Arabs.

Keywords:   quarrel of the ancients and the moderns, Fontenelle, William Temple, Native Americans, China, Peru, Scythians, Arabs, France, England

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